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[15-04-2018]
PIERRE RAGUES SCORES SENSATIONAL PODIUM ON ELMS RETURN AT LE CASTELLET Photo News
French racer Pierre Ragues has made a stunning return to the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) with a podium finish in the opening round of the 2018 championship, the 4 Hours of Le Castellet. 
 
Competing in the Duqueine Engineering #29 Oreca 07 with Nelson Panciatici and Nicolas Jamin, Ragues demonstrated very competitive pace throughout the weekend, as the crew were consistently among the fastest in the close LMP2 field.
 
They ultimately finished in third place overall, just 7.875s from the winners, having battled at the front for most of the four-hour race. They also set the second quickest lap of the race, an impressive feat for Duqueine Engineering in their first race in the hotly contested LMP2 class. 
 
Race day weather was far more pleasant that greeted teams in Friday’s opening free practice session. Intermittent rain made for a damp start to the weekend as the Duqueine Engineering team focused on their race preparations despite the challenging track conditions. Ragues and his team-mates completed 32 laps of the 5.861km Paul Ricard track, setting the fourth best time. 
 
Saturday’s 90-minute practice session saw the team set the outright pace, adding 40 laps to their total, as they concentrated on endurance work. The afternoon’s ten-minute qualifying session was intensely fought and the #29 car fared less well, finishing fifth for the starting grid.
 
Pierre was on starting duties for Sunday afternoon’s race and made an immediately positive impression in the opening laps. A string of impressive overtaking manoeuvres saw the Caen-born racer move up into the top-three with consistently quick lap times, including a few times as the fastest driver on the track. 
 
Around 30 minutes into the race, Pierre made an unscheduled pit stop to change a tyre, which had lost pressure, dropping him back down the order to 16th. A spin on lap 23, after making contact with another car when fighting for position through a corner, further hampered his progress. Still, he pushed hard to recover positions when he was handed a drive-through-penalty, as race organisers deemed him responsible for the previous incident.
 
Pierre handed over to Panciatici in seventh place with 2h44 left on the clock. He continued to make up the lost positions, holding third when a safety car was deployed at the halfway mark. Having put in a strong performance, Panciatici handed the reins over to Jamin for the remainder of the race. The Frenchman vied for the leading positions and secured the team’s debut podium of 2018 with a trouble-free end to the race. 
 
Pierre commented: “That is pretty much the ideal way to start this 2018 season. A podium was the target we set ourselves and we fought really hard to secure the third place. Things didn’t go my way during the opening stint. I made a fast start and could position us inside the top-three, but an unscheduled pit stop and the spin hampered our progress. I felt the penalty was a bit on the harsh side because I was confident I had made the move into the corner, but I respect the decision; that’s racing. The team reacted really well and my team-mates and I did everything we could to recover from the lost time. The LMP2 field is extremely competitive, as we could see from the battles on track. We were definitely one of the fastest car crews out there today and that gives us a lot of confidence and optimism for the future races. I would also like to add that our Michelin tyres have been a very important factor in our weekend result. Thanks, as ever, to my partners GroupAuto, Sparco, Yacco, Ellip6, as well as to everyone at Duqueine Engineering for a great, if hard-fought, opening weekend of the season.”   
 
4 Hours of Le Castellet – Results
 
1. Racing Engineering  / 129 Laps / Best Lap: 1:42.540
2. TDS Racing / +4.827s / Best Lap: 1:42.820
3. Duqueine Engineering / + 7.875s / Best Lap: 1:42.560